I recently stumbled onto the work of Portland's Zerrin Koch through a friend. Koch makes a wide variety of things in a recognizable modern style, but it's her pet portraits that I fell hard for. She has a gift for allowing cute and serious to mingle in a way that avoids preciousness, and the resulting likenesses are spot-on. Oh, and her prices are really agreeable.

Where are you from / where did you grow up?

I was born in Seattle and moved to Olympia around 1994/1995, when I was in the 4th grade. I lived there until I graduated from Evergreen in 2008 with a BA in "visual arts" (quotes because we don't have majors at Evergreen), and then decided to move down to Portland because it's where most of my friends and sister were living.

Stella Peeg
  • Zerrin Koch
  • Stella Peeg

What pets did you have as a child? What pets do you have now?

I grew up with mostly cats. The first one I remember was Fonzie, then there was Beazus and Mina and Nuzzle. Then there was Snookie. Then there was my precious baby, Pootie, and then Nino and Nula. All of them have passed away now, except for Pootie and Nula, who live with my mom in Olympia (I feel too guilty to move Pootie to the big city when she has the Olympia countryside to roam.) I also grew up with Barred Rock and Araucana chickens, who can be hilarious, and we had a parakeet once which my dad named Larry Bird, but no one called him that. We had a rabbit or two, and a hamster named MC Hamster who was mean and we gave him away. And when I was really little, we had a sheltie named Bosco, who ran away all the time. But I'm a pretty big cat lady. Oh, and we raised two orphaned baby squirrels when I was in high school. I love animals.

What materials do you use to make your pet portraits?

I usually ask for an average of 3 good portrait quality photos to work from, then I sketch them out with a mechanical pencil onto 100% recycled bogus paper, after that I start drawing in more details and shape with a variety of Prismacolor colored pencils, I eventually add more color with some Windsor & Newton watercolors, and then go back over with colored pencils.

Doctor O
  • Zerrin Koch
  • Doctor O

How many have you done so far?

I think I started painting animals a few years ago, and did practice portraits of animals I found on the internet. I've painted my cat a bunch of times, and have done quite a few more of friend's pets for presents. So for personal pet portraits, I've probably done a little over a dozen, and for non-personal pictures (like animals I thought were cute on the internet) maybe like 40 or something? I have an art Tumblr because the Tumblr I started for my art got consumed by my Tumblr addiction. That's where I tried to put my good pictures of previous portraits, I didn't get a scanner or digital camera until last year, and was using my computer camera to take pictures.

Pig Pig
  • Zerrin Koch
  • Pig Pig

What do you like most about drawing people pets?

I think I love drawing pets because I love animals so much. I'm really awkward with people, but really comfortable with animals, plus having animals around, or talking about animals is a really good icebreaker. I like pet portraits because you get to talk to the owner of the animal about their pet and learn their pet's name and hear stories, and it's really fun. They're usually as passionate about their animal as I am. I'd imagine it's like having a baby. I've totally been working, and some co-workers and I have pulled out photos of our cats and just rambled about them for, like, 15 minutes instead of doing our job. Plus I really like drawing fur.

What do you like to listen to / watch while working on art?

When I'm working, I listen to a bunch of stuff. A lot of mix-tapes, records, stuff off my computer. I have a ton of weird 60's garage rock/rockabilly/pop stuff, like anything off of Lux and Ivy's old radio show, or songs that would be in a John Waters soundtrack. I also have a friend who hosts Ditch Digger Radio on KBOO here in Portland. She also works at Mississippi Records and hooks me up with some amazing stuff. I also love me 80's early 90's stuff like the Ramones, the Smiths, Morrissey, the Cure, anything good, goth and synthy. Also, the Damned, Joy Division, New Order, the Misfits, Danzig, Alaska Y Los Pegamoides. Sometimes stuff from my 70's Bollywood collection. Lots of old lounge stuff. Opera. I think I listened to old J-Pop tapes I made when I was 13, when I did your portraits. I have a wide variety of tastes. I think I've listened to the song "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" by James Darren A LOT this week. I usually don't watch anything while painting because I can't concentrate as well. But that's what crocheting is for!

  • Zerrin Koch
  • Yoshi

Is art your main source of income? If not, what is?

I'm currently not employed, but I'm looking for a suitable job, and am living off my savings in the meantime. I'm also figuring out how to sell stuff online, like starting my Etsy account.

Do you have hobbies? If so, what are they?

I like to consider myself a crafter more than an artist. I think my whole life is a hobby. I do a lot of crocheted stuff, like purses, stuffed animal backpacks, stuffed animals, and imaginary taxidermy animal heads. I got really into shell art for a while, which led to a bean portrait of Bruce Springsteen, which remains unfinished because I ate the beans I was using. Pasta art. I love embroidery and using felt and sequins, someday I want to make a nudie suit. I love cooking. I took culinary classes for two years in high school. I used to make music, I was in an all girl, seven member rap group called Gyunyunyu and the Science Fun Station, and I had a midi synth pop solo project called Revolt and Virgina after that, which I started off by making songs that were based off of romance novels, then drifted to other songs. Iwant to get back into that. I listen to a lot of music, and watch a ton of TV shows and movies for someone who doesn't have the internet.

  • Derek Erdman
  • Yoshimi

What are your favorite foods?

This one is really difficult. Curries of various countries, pizza, burritos, sushi train, seafood, all veggies, most fruit, cheese, breakfast, eggs, pasta, avocados, everything.

What is better, Seattle or Portland?

I think both have their merits. I have a ton of friends and family in Seattle and love a lot of things about it. It's bigger and I think there's a wider variety of things to do. I actually consider moving there a lot, but I have panic attacks and get severe road rage over traffic. Portland is good in a lot of ways too. I feel like it's more spacious, and there are roses growing everywhere. Plus, no sales tax. you don't have to pump your own gas, but I feel like it's popularity at the moment is making it less unique and pushing out a lot of cool things, like condos where there used to be venues. I like Seattle for having a get-up-and-go attitude, and Portland for having a I'm-sleeping-in-and-having-a-late-afternoon-breakfast kind of 'tude. It's a constant battle!

Thanks a lot, Zerrin Koch!